James M. Kouzes is co-author (with Barry Z. Posner) of The Leadership Challenge. In the brief article that follows, featured by Booz & Company’s strategy+business magazine, he introduces a passage on the importance of remembering where you started that appears in From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership, by Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr.
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As a leader, you quickly learn what it feels like to be squeezed between lofty expectations and your own limitations. No leader’s performance is flawless. You can’t see around every corner, and despite your best efforts, your initiatives sometimes miss the mark. No leader is faultless. Sometimes you get angry and short, and you don’t always listen as carefully as you should. Sometimes you need to be reminded to treat everyone with dignity and respect and to recognize and thank others. In other words, you’re human.
The words human and humble both derive from the Latin humus, meaning earth. To be human and humble is to be down-to-earth, with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Interesting, isn’t it, how as you climb the ranks you also climb to a higher floor in the building, getting farther and farther away from the ground? Is it any wonder that the higher you go, the harder it gets to stay grounded?
That’s why it’s so important to think back to the beginning of your career. As Harry Kraemer explains in the following excerpt, that’s the place where leaders can find some of the most important lessons they’ll ever learn. We should all remember where we started. It would also serve us well to have the humility and grace to acknowledge that the amazing people who reside in the cubicles (“cubes”) are the ones who are responsible for most of our successes.
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To read the excerpt from Chapter 4 of From Values to Action, please click here.